Monday, August 31, 2009

New Composite Research Center for medical Products... Perhaps

Scientists in Wichita, KS applied for $15 million dollars of stimulus money to create a research center to help integrate composite materials into medical and orthopedic products. The city of Wichita has already donated 43 acres of land worth $1.2 million, and are hoping to build a 50,000 sqft building next to the current National Center for Aviation Training.

Much of the new composite aerospace materials, especally FDA approved thermoplastic resins, have a bright future for use in orthopedics. For example, if you look closely at the x-ray above, you can spot a metal bone screw holding together a fracture. If that orthopedic insert could be composite, it would not appear on the x-ray, and the doctor could more easily determine the healing of the injury. Other advantages of composite medical inserts include higher lubricity (less pain/discomfort) and less risk of allergies (a surprisingly large population is allergic to nickle).

With the nearby National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR), a leading composite material research institute, there is ample space for sharing of ideas and technology.

More info:

The Wichita Eagle

Aerospace Composites

Photo Credit: joebeone via flicker

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Composite Armor Manufacturing

Here is an interesting article about a North Dakota armor/material/composite company, Sioux Manufacturing Corp. They are recovering from a recent law suit, and pushing forward to try and supply the government with armor and ballistic composite products.

The company is said to have a 250 sqft manufacturing facility, employ 190-210 people, and have revenues between $25 and $40m.

Interesting enough, I recently stumbled on this new government award to supply 86 ballistic spall liners for a unit cost of $795.01, for a contract value at $68,370.86...

Photo credit: via flicker

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pultruded Composite Scaffolding

Making scaffolding out of composite materials seems like it should be an obvious decision. Planks would be lightweight, non-conductive, strong, durable, not absorb moisture, and never rot. Although the concept seems like a no-brainer, it has taken time to make inroads.

Wood, steel, and aluminum, the traditional saffolding planks are inexpensive, familar, and proven. For someone to try and enter this market, trying to convince construction companies to switch to a more expensive product, especally in this construction enviroment, would be a serious challenge. Not to mention the hurdel in code certification and the ever present liability risk of someone getting injured using a plank.

This is why my hat goes off to Tim Bothwell, who I have recently learned from this article, that he has been spending many years developing and selling a pultruded composite scaffolding system. His company, Bothwell Composite Plank System, is said to have made 10,000 planks in the last 3 years. Part of his success has been the targeting of niche power generation and offshore oil markets.

It seems Bothwell has partnered with Top Glass out of Italy, which was recently acquired by Kemrock Industries out of India.

Photo credit: kevindooly via flicker

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Car Companies Looking at Lightweight Composites... Thermoplastics?

This recent Plastics news article (read it here), discusses how the major auto manufacturers are researching advanced composite materials. In an attempt to stay with the times, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation is investigating new materials being researched at universities, government laboratories, and R&D companies. It was also noted,
"Michigan is not alone in investing in lightweight materials: Toyota Motor Corp. of Toyota City, Japan, is “progressing” in its research into using thermoplastic composites in structural parts, said Justin Ward, advanced powertrain program manager at the Toyota Technical Center in Gardena, Calif. The center is part of the research and development division of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc., Toyota’s U.S. subsidiary based in Erlanger, Ky."
Weight savings (fuel efficiency) will continue the push towards the increased use of composite materials in transportation. For car manufacturers, composites processing has traditionally been seen as a new and big investment in tooling and equipment. Material costs, surface finish, end of life recyclability, and other issues must all be solved prior to acceptance.

Thermoplastic composites will be a natural candidate with the ability to post mold, ability for automotive quality surface finish, impact resistance, and recyclable features. European car manufacturers are already playing around with continuous fiber thermoplastic components, as I believe the new BMW M series bumpers are manufactured with a carbon reinforced thermoplastic bumper. (will look into this further)

Photo Credit: WilVision Photography via flicker

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

U. Maine's Composite Bridge Technology

The University of Maine's AEWC Advanced Composites Center has been know to do some exciting things. Back in February of this year, they announced they were spinning off a company for a composites technology called, "Bridge in a Backpack." Not entirely sure how it works, but it seems they are using hollow tubes and inflating a sort of bladder, curing in place, and later filling with concrete, thus making a structural bridge. Time savings and shipping/logistics savings are a likely draw. Read some more info here.

This new company called, "Advanced Infrastructure Technologies," is planning to build bridges for the Maine Department of Transportation, and it seems the U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is giving them a visit this week. Read the announcement here.

Photo Credit (not a composite bridge): Big D2112 via flicker

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Latest Word on Composite with Boeing and Airbus

Nobody like wrinkles, especally composite manufacturers. Wrinkles in composite laminates can lead to delamination and premature failure. Apparently, Alenia Aeronautica out of Italy supplied Boeing with some fuselage sections, where the carbon fiber had some wrinkling. Boeing filed a stop work with Alenia as of June 23rd, and as of last Friday, Boeing has delayed the first 787 flight test until further notice (other issues involving joining the wings). Read a NY Times article here.

Meanwhile, Airbus has received £340 million in loans from the UK government to help stimulate domestic manufacturing, much of which will undoubtedly be composite related. This comes on top of a recent £60 million loan to GKN Aerospace for the manufacturing of rear spar and trailing edge for the A350 XWB. Read about it all here.

Photo Credit: markjhandel via flicker

Monday, August 17, 2009

Carbon Fiber Composite Running Legs

Ever since I first heard of the "Cheetah Leg", a prosthetic leg made for running, I have been fascinated. The leg, partly designed upon the leg of a cheetah, it is made to feel as if the runner is standing on the ball of their foot. First introduced in the late 1990's these carbon legs have continued to make advancements, and the athletes using them are constantly breaking records. You can read about the latest technology in a recent New York Times article here.

Composite materials are being used in a wide range of applications, but this innovative design and use of carbon I find extremely amazing.

Below is a video from the TED conference in 1998, if you are not familiar with the TED conference, check it out when you have some free time. If you jump to about the 15min mark, you will see and learn about the first edition of these carbon legs.

Photo Credit: Tarique via flicker

Friday, August 14, 2009

2nd Quarter Results for Composite Companies

Second quarter results are out for publicly traded composite material companies, and so far, it seems things are still slow. Here are a few of the results:

Hexcel posted a 37% drop in quarterly profit. More Info

Owens Corning, although beating estimates, earnings for the quarter were down 19%. More Info

Toray took a loss, blaming decreased demand. More Info

Aldila, a California manufacturer of golf shafts took a larger loss on less earnings then during the same period in 2008. More Info

European pultruder Excel reported a 14% decline in sales for the 2nd quarter. More Info This comes on the heels of the announcement of layoffs in June.

One company that turned a profit is large contractor Alliant Techsystems (ATK), they do a fair amount of composite manufacturing, but it seems their profit came from sales of bullets. More Info

Photo Credit: azrainman via Flicker

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pultrusion: Tooling and Prototype Costs

The pultrusion process is known as the most cost effective method of manufacturing FRP composite profiles. this is because once a pultrusion machine is up and running, there is little labor involved. However, in prototyping of profiles manufactured by pultrusion, costs can be extremely high. The largest cost being the manufacturing of a precision ground die (although this is a one-time cost).

Other fixed costs in pultrusion include tooling, set-up, and clean up when finished. These costs are present whether 10 feet, or 10,000 feet are pultruded.

To help lower prototyping costs, Virginia Tech has developed a
"Novel and cost effective pultrusion die technology streamlines the construction processes and reduces tooling costs by as much as 11%. Lead times are cut by almost 50%.

Technology utilizes rapid prototyping and tooling techniques to produce shaping elements comprising the die core with an exterior core housing constructed from readily available pre-cut metal bar stock."

This technology is available for license from the University, and for more information please visit their website here.

Photo Credit: Ebert Composites Corporation

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

UAVs and Composite Materials

In the latest cover story in Popular Science Magazine, an interesting article is dedicated to drones used by the Air Force and the training of the pilots. From this article, the following were the most interesting quotes:

"At this moment, dozens of armed drones circle miles above insurgents, watching everything in real time, with resolution sharp enough to read a license plate"

"More than a third of the 200 Predators delivered to date have crashed catastrophically, due to both aircraft malfunction and human error."

This timely article is coinciding with the largest Unmanned Aerial Vehicle conference currently going on in DC, The AUVSI's Unmanned Systems. At this trade show, demonstrations of UAVs are going on, with the largest advancements being: surveillance/communication equipment, advanced propulsion, and advanced aerostructures/increased payloads.

Composite materials are playing a crucial role in the bodies and wings of these vehicles, particularly autoclaved carbon components. Weight must continue to drop thus allowing these aircraft's to carry more equipment / weapons, and stay in the air longer.

As this relatively young industry continues to mature, advances in composite tooling, out of autoclave production, and new composite materials will help transform the next generation UAVs and drones.

Other interesting recent articles:
NY Times

Photo Credit: via flicker

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Composite Armor Companies Get More Funding

Composite armor companies are making some recent headlines for receiving substantial funding support. This includes the following:

Armor Dynamics, out of Kingston, NY is set to receive $2 million from the fiscal year 2010 defense appropriations bill to develop advanced composite armor. You can read the announcement here and another one here.

In same 2010 defense bill, PPG Industries is set to receive $2 million in composite armor development. Press release here.

Additionally, CPS Technologies Corporation announced it has received an award of $1,473,509 from the Army Research Laboratory to continue the development of manufacturing technologies for large modules hybrid metal matrix composite armor. Read the press release here.

Not to mention the $3.3 million slated to AGY for ballistic fiber which was mentioned before here.

As long as troops are in conflict, force protection will be mandatory. Here is an interesting blog post about composite armor in the MRAP vehicle and the JLTV. The JLTV, Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, which is in development by some of the largest military contractors and will hopefully be the replacement for the older Hummer-type military vehicles.

Photo Credit: via flicker

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Best to come out of NASA: Composite Materials

Interesting article about some of the best technology advances to come out of NASA... Including composite materials...

Also included: solar energy, forest management, environmental controls, oil spill control, water purification, home insulation, smoke detectors, water reduction technology, energy storage systems, structural analysis, air quality monitors, virtual reality, green building, advanced lubricants, and more.

So lets hear it for more funding for space exploration... How about Mars?

Read the article:

Photo Credit: buglugs via Flicker